Workspace profiles

Ever wanted to peek into creative people’s workspaces and discover how messy or organised they are? Now’s your chance!


Urban graffiti artist Stik, and abstract artist Bronwen Bradshaw

Can your environment and the restrictions of your workspace influence the work itself? Here are an urban and a country artist for whom that’s definitely so…

It’s late and it’s dark. Stik, a muralist who’s been painting walls in the east end of London for the last 10 years, puts his spray cans and his project sketch pad into a large yellow satchel and heads out into the night.

“When I’m painting walls where I don’t have explicit verbal consent, I work quickly and try to look as official and as deliberate as I can.”

It’s a strategy that’s paid off. Stik started out by spotting likely looking walls, sketching and planning his ideas for them and spraying them in just hours, or even minutes, in order to run off before the police found him, but these days the savvy owners of bookshops, galleries, cafes and social centres in both London and Bristol are commissioning him to paint their walls. And for the first time he’s started to rent a studio and to sell canvases and sculptures through galleries.

Stik’s deceptively simple, yet expressive trademark stick people seem almost to have been shaped by the constraints of his working environments. They are defiantly human, reflective and introspective when contrasted with their noisy urban habitat. Meeting him makes you wonder if this reflects the way in which he lives himself. He developed his distinctive style whilst living in squats around Hackney.

“What came from living in completely disorganised spaces, was accepting that they’re impossible to control and to keep clean and tidy. But it is possible to designate some areas in which you can keep control even if it’s only five inches of shelf space, which can become a ‘shrine to organisation’” he laughs. “But you have to accept that you have no control over other people’s detritus”

He talks of keeping sketch books ‘in the back of the cupboard’ filled with ideas until he sees the perfect wall or commission for them. This suggests a long process of rumination, and yet the conditions he works in mean that all his planning has to culminate in a lightning fast execution.

“I get a separate hardback sketch book for each project and fill it full of ideas, notes and anything I can glean. On the day, I gather up all my spray paints and my sketchbook and go. When I paint, I leave as little to chance as possible, but the bits I do leave to chance often define the piece.”

Stik’s almost Zen like preparation and planning process have trained his mind so that he is often able to take advantage of chance factors in his environment. For instance he rushed out as soon as it snowed in London this March, and was able to create these large scale temporary works whilst the surface of the roads was still pristine.

Recently, however, working in a studio has started to influence him and enable him to use a wider range of materials and to layer his work.

“When I’m working on the street I’ve got to take my own little microcosm with me. In the studio I work with a wider palate. I’ve started to have ideas in the studio I would never have entertained before. I found some big oil drums out the back and dragged them in here and sprayed them up. Then I could do more on them the next day and the next, just because they were still there. I find I’m layering paint more. I’m also taking on different projects and commissions. I can agree to do them now, because I know I have the space.

This ability to spread a project out, collect materials and work over a longer period of time is definitely central for abstract artist, printmaker and video artist Bronwen Bradshaw who works from a spacious light filled studio at The Dove, surrounded by fields, in the heart of Somerset. Bron says that she finds herself ‘layering incrementally, getting more and more untidy’.

“When I’m about to make a huge mess I’m very tidy to start out with, but it’s a pattern with me and I do it whichever space I’m working in. It starts out tidy and then ends up not. Then I have a massive tidy up again. It’s like the tide…”

When describing her working process, she explains “An idea has to inhabit my head for quite a while before I can start to find it on the metal.”

For her ‘Variation’ series which is based on J.S. Bach’s Goldberg variations she says “The lines of music were weaving in and out of each other in my mind all day and night, merging with the ever changing landscape and grasses outside my studio windows and the wonderful moons of last summer”. She then describes constructing her etchings out of “two shapes or a shape and a line that spoke to each other in some way” before going on to add other textural elements.

“I only realised once the prints were exhibited, that the line and textures which at the time I had thought were totally ‘abstract’ in fact called to mind the grasses, moths and moons outside my window.”

Layering and the cross pollination of projects in print, hand made books and video in which Bron can also utilise her skill with music, seem to be key to the way in which she works, with each stage of a project having the potential to influence another. Because of this, she says “I love tidiness, but I don’t always achieve it!” Fortunately for Bron, teaching is another factor which influences the way she organises. Her studio is a wonderful space to study and explore in, and she makes it as easy as possible for pupils by labelling every drawer and tidying up before every course begins. However, she says she also uses the labels herself.

“I know someone whose workspace can be a complete tip, but who can walk in and put their hand on exactly what they need straight away. I need the labels though.”

The thing that both these artists agree on is that some form of order is essential so that it’s possible to work efficiently, but also that some visual chaos is fine, and can even help ideas to gestate.

Stik says “I’m really messy and when things are out of order, that really inhibits me. Disorder is an inhibitor, but crisp packets on the floor, that’s not a problem”.

Catch Stik’s solo show at the Mile End Arts Pavillion (Clinton Road, off Grove Road, Mile End, London)  which is running throughout December 2009. Read Stik’s blog here